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Family: Cichlidae, Subfamily Cichlinae

Common Name: Firemouth

Origin and Habitat: On the Atlantic slope of Central America from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico down through Belize and into northern Guatemala. They inhabit shallow, slow-moving rivers and streams, often in turbid water, having a substrate of mud, sand or rock; remain close to the shore where there is overhanging vegetation for protection. Unless specifically imported, aquarium fish will have been commercially raised. Introduced into Colombia, Florida and the Hawaiian Islands.

Compatibility/Temperament: Mildly aggressive, rather peaceful for a cichlid. In its habitat, it can be found in small groups though this is not a true shoaling species. Males establish a territory defined by plants, sticks and branches whether or not they are breeding. Suitable in a small group in a 55g or larger aquarium; other fish must be non-aggressive and can include similar medium peaceful cichlids from Central America (in much larger tanks), medium barbs, larger characins and peaceful substrate fish. Not suitable with small fish. Will become more aggressive when spawning.

Firemouth Diet

Primarily herbivorous in nature (feeding largely on algae), it should receive some vegetable matter such as algae/spirulina/kelp base prepared foods and zucchini and cucumber. Prepared cichlid foods (flake, pellet). Frozen and/or live bloodworms, insects and insect larvae, daphnia, shrimp, and small earthworms occasionally.


Attains 17cm (6.6 inches) [Fishbase], though some sources indicate males usually attain 5-6 inches and females 4-5 inches.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

36 inch (40 gallon) for a pair; 48 inch (55g) and larger for a small group.

Water parameters for Firemouth

Soft to medium hard (< 20 dGH), slightly acidic to slightly basic (pH 6.5 to 8), temperature 22-27C/72-80F.


This is an excellent "first cichlid" for hobbyists due to its relative smaller size and generally more peaceful disposition (except when spawning). Wild caught fish are more colourful than the commercially raised fish, and this species shows considerable variation in colour throughout its distribution range. It has a lifespan of approximately ten years.

While this is a mildly aggressive cichlid, it is also a very nervous fish; external noise will stress it, and tankmates must not be aggressive or boisterous. An aquarium with plenty of branches and floating plants will suit it admirably. It prefers quiet water, so the filter flow should not be excessive. Sand, gravel and rocks can be used for the substrate. This fish is a bottom feeder and substrate sifter, and will regularly "chew" mouthfuls of the substrate similar to the "earth-eater" cichlids of South America.

The male is more colourful and has pointed dorsal and anal fins; those of the female are usually rounded but not necessarily, and several sources suggest the two are near-identical in external appearance. Spawning is easy, and a pair will often remain together for several broods. This fish is a substrate spawner; usually a rock is used, and some sources mention a cave.

This fish was described in 1918 as Thorichthys helleri meeki by W.L. Brind. The subspecies epithet honours Seth Eugene Meek who erected the genus in 1904 for several of the smaller Central American cichlids. The genus name is from the Greek for leaping fish; apparently Meek observed these fish jumping from the water when he touched it with his finger. In 1980, D.S. Lee et al. placed this species in the genus Cichlasoma where it remained until W.E. Burgess (2000) returned it to Thorichthys as a distinct species.


Burgess, W.E. (2000), "The Cichlasoma story. Herichthys, the break-up," in Tropical Fish Hobbyist, volume 48 (no. 11), pp. 44-54.

Lee, D.S., and others (1980), Atlas of North American freshwater fishes, Publication No. 1980-12 of the North Carolina Biological Survey. [Individual contributors were responsible for species accounts.]

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The following members have contributed to this profile: Byron


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